President Joe Biden on Friday called for a “reinvigorated” peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, using his visit to the West Bank to push for progress in the intractable conflict.
After two days of warm meetings with Israeli leaders, Biden traveled to Bethlehem to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The visit was more than a courtesy call, as Biden announced more than $300 million in financial assistance and initiatives for the Palestinians, offsetting an almost complete shutdown of Palestinian aid by the Trump administration.
Biden spoke empathetically about the plight of ordinary Palestinians, insisting that only a two-state solution could improve their lives and usher in a new era of peace, prosperity and dignity alongside Israelis.
“I hope that our visit will be the beginning of a new and reinvigorated dialogue,” he said in a joint speech with Abbas, noting his preference for an agreement consistent with 1967 borders, mutually acceptable land swaps and a contiguous Palestinian state. “I know the goal of two states seems so far away, while indignities like travel movement restrictions or daily concern for the safety of your children are real and immediate. The Palestinian people are suffering now. You can feel it, your pain and frustration.”
However, he admitted that “the ground is not ripe at this time to restart negotiations”, although he promised that his administration would help facilitate negotiations between the two parties if the situation changes.
Abbas, who has not contested elections since 2006, causing serious damage to his reputation and legitimacy, offered a glimmer of hope when he said the Palestinians were willing to work with the United States “hand in hand to reach a deal.” comprehensive and only peace.” But he also made a strong call on Washington to help end the occupation of Palestinian land and reiterated the demand that East Jerusalem be the capital of a sovereign state of Palestine.
The current Israeli government, headed by interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid, supports the search for a two-state solution. But Lapid lacks the mandate to embark on a long and politically fraught effort to restart negotiations in earnest, though he could do so if he ends up as the country’s leader after the November elections, Israel’s fifth round of elections in less than four years. .
The session made it clear that the permanent status talks have effectively gone full circle, with few (if any) of the issues identified in the Oslo Accords of 1993 resolved and with less trust between Americans and Palestinians. A senior administration official admitted Wednesday that the peace process needed a new “base in place to make some progress.”
Biden made specific mention during his speech of the murder of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, whose death has become a point of contention between Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Several Palestinian journalists at the joint Biden-Abbas remarks wore black T-shirts that read “Justice for Shireen” and a photo of the slain reporter was placed on an empty chair in the front row of the section reserved for the Palestinian press.
The US president stumbled over Akleh’s name a lot during his remarks, during which he said that too many Palestinian families had lost loved ones. “It’s heartbreaking,” he said.
The State Department said two weeks ago that Akleh was likely inadvertently killed by the Israel Defense Forces, a statement that failed to satisfy calls for justice from the Palestinian Authority and the reporter’s families. Citing a tight schedule, Biden’s team said the president would not be able to visit Akleh’s family in the West Bank, but noted Secretary of State Antony Blinken had invited the family to Washington.
Following his half-day visit to the West Bank, Biden will fly to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for the second leg of his trip to the Middle East. There she will meet Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.